Sunday, August 1, 2010

Top Ten Author Promotion Missteps by Marcia James

To paraphrase an advertising adage, "Only 50 percent of promotion works, but no one knows which 50 percent." So it pays to understand your PR options, as well as how to avoid undermining your promotional efforts. The following is my personal list of author promotion missteps.

10. Sending too many book excerpts -- or the same excerpt too many times -- to reader loops. Also "drive-by promoting" on reader loops.

Even in promotion, there can be "too much of a good thing", so be aware of how many excerpts and blurbs you send to reader loops. You want readers to say, "Oh, look, another fun book excerpt from Anne Author!" vs. "Oh, no, not another book excerpt from Anne Author!" Also, readers enjoy interacting with authors vs. being treated as a target market. So if you don't have time to participate on these loops beyond posting book excerpts and blurbs, consider picking just one loop and developing reader friendships on it while promoting your books.

9. Bad-mouthing people (especially those in the publishing industry) and other authors' books.

Snark might seem popular on certain blogs, but what you say online can haunt you forever. It's best to follow the old saying, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

8. Making things difficult for readers: a hard-to-navigate website, hard-to-read text, no printable book list, no purchase link by your website's book blurb/excerpt, etc.

Readers appreciate being able to easily find information about your books and how to buy them. Is your website simple to navigate and read? If you have a reader e-newsletter, can they see how to sign up to receive it? If you have a book series, does your website list the books and their order, so readers can read them in sequence? Is there a clear "purchase link" next to your website's book blurbs and excerpts?

7.Not using an email signature -- and not putting title CAPS in URLs.

Making things easy for readers pertains to more than just websites. Do you use an email signature? Most email programs make it simple to set up a signature. It should include your website URL as an active link, so readers don't need to copy-and-paste your URL into their web browser. The email signature can also include things like your tagline, the title of your current or next release, contest wins, etc. But check the loops you're on to see if they restrict email signatures to three lines. And remember that other writers are readers too, so use email signatures on your writer and reader loops.

URLs aren't case sensitive, so reinforce your pen name within your URL by using title CAPS. For example, it's easier to see my pen name in my URL if I type it vs. And sometimes title CAPS can avoid unintentional connotations. An example of this is a consignment store named Children's Exchange, whose URL was Title CAPS would have prevented any misunderstandings in that example.

6. Treating readers, bookstore personnel, librarians, etc poorly.

I'm always amazed when I hear of authors pulling diva acts at booksignings or snubbing other writers at conferences. Successful marketing includes positive word-of-mouth, so why give the people you meet a reason to tell their friends and family how unkind you were? Booksellers don't hand-sell the books of authors who were a pain at a booksigning. And librarians don't recommend books by someone who was difficult when doing a library presentation. Years ago, I attended the booksigning of a New York Times bestselling mystery author. He was so abrupt (read "rude") to readers, I never bought another one of his books.

5. Discounting the importance of networking.

Power-schmoozing can pay off with contacts who can introduce you to their agent or editor, give you a cover quote, join you in co-promotion efforts (like a group blog), include you in multi-author booksignings, etc. The phrase, "It's who you know" is as pertinent in publishing as it is in every industry. Obviously, extroverts enjoy networking more than introverts, but shy authors can network online through reader and writer email loops.

4. Not Googling pen names and taglines before using them; and spending more on logoed PR items because you're buying them to promote one book vs. your brand.

These two seemingly different missteps are connected under one concept: originality. Obviously, if you Google the pen name and tagline you'd like to use, you'll be able to determine whether or not another author has the same or similar name and tagline. Years ago, when I decided on the pen name "Marcia James", I did a search to see if there were other romance authors with similar names. I found Eloisa James and Stephanie James, who wrote very different stories than I did. So I locked in my domain name. Now, almost ten years later, there are so many authors with James in their names, I made lemonade out of the lemons by interviewing a different one each month for my James Gang feature ( ;-) So while you can't predict who might have a similar pen name or tagline in the future, you can try to make yours as unique as possible today.

Uniqueness is also a good thing when it comes to your logoed promotional items. For example, I give away thumbcuff keychains (over 7,000 and counting) as part of my "Hot, Humorous Romances" author brand. The keychains represent both my law enforcement protagonists and the racy sex in my stories. Because I'm promoting my brand and not a single title with these thumbcuffs, I can order over 1,000 thumbcuffs at a time and save a lot on the bulk order. Last summer at the national Romance Writers of America conference, three people came up to me to tell me they were sorry they hadn't gotten any of the thumbcuffs I'd put in the Goody Room. Why is that important? Because I hadn't put any thumbcuffs in the Goody Room. Another author had bought them to promote a single book that had handcuffs on the cover, but a number of the people who noticed the thumbcuffs thought they were from me. So it would have been more cost-effective and memorable for that author to purchase in bulk a PR giveaway that would become associated with her brand.

3. Choosing to do PR options you hate or are ill-suited for.

No one author can possibly take advantage of every promotional opportunity available -- even with the help of a publicist or a PR site, such as AuthorIsland. So why choose to do those things that are outside your comfort zone or areas of expertise? Instead, use criteria such as your personality, skills, and book specifics to determine your best PR options. This is a core element in my online promotional workshops (including the one I'm presenting August 15-28: For example, I'm an extrovert and love power schmoozing, so networking is one of my chosen promotional options. I'm also a technophobe who would hate learning how to design a website, so I hired a Webmistress (Karen McCullough, to create mine. I'm not saying, for example, that a shy author shouldn't try to develop networking skills; I'm simply saying that authors have limited time and resources, and it pays to use them wisely.

2. Not having a professional, often-updated website.

A website is often considered an author's #1 one promotional tool. Make yours as professional as possible, with interesting, new content to entice readers to visit often. Like many authors, I have a website contest that draws readers to my site. You can also offer free reads, interviews, a blog, book plates and other giveaways, recipes, games, photos, etc.

1. Spending all your free time on promotion vs. writing your next book.

Each book you write brings you new readers, so prioritize your time to allow for more writing than promotion. Social media sites, like Facebook, can be fun but incredible time drains. Protect your writing time so you'll have products (your books) to market during those times you allot for promotion.

That's my list. ;-) As I mentioned earlier, it pays to understand your PR options so you can make educated choices. I have a 300-page Microsoft WORD file on Promotional Options that I give away free to any writer who would like it. To request this file, go to my website's "Contact Me" page and email me. I'll attach the file to my reply email.

Thanks for having me as a guest-blogger today! Happy promoting!

-- Marcia James


  1. Hi, Hannah! Thanks for hosting me on your blog! I love discussing author promotion. ;-)
    -- Marcia James ;-)

  2. Great blog post, Marcia! Very informative and useful!

  3. Thanks, Renee! Happy promoting!
    -- Marcia ;-)

  4. These are excellent Marcia. I found one that I am guilty of doing. *blushes* Thanks for pointing these out. And many thanks to the wonderful Hannah Howell for hosting you. I must admit, I've been reading her books nonstop recently, and had ulterior motives for being here today. Plus, I heard you were here as well. Two birds... ;o

  5. Hi, Kayelle! Thanks for stopping by! I admit that I like PR so much, it sometimes gets in the way of my writing. So I'm guilty or a misstep, too.

    -- Marcia ;-)

  6. Marcia,

    Really enjoyed reading your post.


  7. Hi, Ruth! Thanks for stopping by!
    -- Marcia ;-)

  8. What a great top ten list. I made note of the printable book list. I only have a handful of books out, but I've made note of that tip so I can incorporate it in my website. There's so many things to think about when promoting that it can be quite mind boggling and sometimes simple things get forgotten in the shuffle.

  9. Hi, Eve! Congratulations on your books! PR can be stressful, especially if you have book deadlines and other time commitments.

    Readers who enjoy book series always want to know the order of the books. Authors want readers to buy their latest books, particularly if the earlier books are only available through used book stores (with the author getting no roylaties on those sales). So most book lists have the latest books at the top of the list and the beginning books at the bottom. That seems backlwards, but it puts the latest releases in top place.

    Happy promoting!
    -- Marcia ;-)

  10. Hi Marcia!
    Great post filled with useful information. But it still astounds me that adults need to be reminded to not bad-mouth other writers and industry professionals!

    Hi Hannah!
    I just resturned from national and have been going through stuff I picked up in the goodie room. I stayed away from all the bookmarks and postcards..I have dozens of them. My favorite item by far is your little book of sticky notes. I like it so much it prompted me to look you up...and join your blog. So great promotion....and thanks. (Next I'll check out your books....after I finish another round of revisions for my (keep your fingers crossed) soon to be editor.

  11. Hi, Wendy! Best wishes on revising and selling your book! ;-)

    I agree that you would think writers would understand that this is a profession and we need to act professionally. But during last week's RWA national conference, I heard snippets of conversations in the lobby that contained negative comments about other authors and an editor. Ironically, I also heard of an agent who was claiming (falsely) that the suggested (but unused) revisions she made on a manuscript were the only reason the writer won a Golden Heart award. So it's not just authors who need to watch what they say in public forums.

    I also agree that Hannah's sticky notes were a hit. ;-) They did their job by interesting you in going to Hannah's site. Too often authors think the job of PR giveaways and print materials is to sell a book. Their job (besides branding) is to get the potential reader to the author's #1 tool: her website. The website can often influence a reader to buy a book, thanks to the site's book blurb, book excerpt, etc. One of the only print products that has a good reputation for selling books is a first chapter booklet or excerpt booklet.
    -- Marcia ;-)

  12. Hi Marcia!
    Not to hog the blog...but I agree. I did pick up a couple of the first chapter excerpt booklets, but have yet to read them.

  13. Wendy -- you're not hogging the blog. ;-D

    When preparing for the author promotion workshops I present, I researched what readers say catches their attention and possibly convinces them to buy a book. Most said they want to check out a book's blurb and read an excerpt -- particularly if the author isn't on their automatic buy list.

    Author websites can definitely offer the potential reader a taste of the book and the author's style, but chapter booklets can also do this. The booklets can be expensive (if you are having them printed up by a place like Kinkos) or time-consuming (if you're doing them yourself). But they can be effective.

    Have a great day!
    -- Marcia ;-)

  14. Great advice! I always thought you don't want to post too many different excerpts because you don't want to give too much of the story away, but you make a good point about readers having to read the same excerpt all the time.

    One way I socialize without promoting anything is I joined a television show discussion group on Goodreads. It's something I like and I meet people that way, and hopefully a few might be curious to learn more about me. If not, it's still fun to discuss my favorite t.v. shows.

  15. Hi, Celtic Chick (Kelley?)! ;-) You only want to post an excerpt or two to tease potential readers into wanting to buy the book. You can email a reader group about your research for a book, anecdotes about writing the book, things like that vs. just posting lots of excerpts.

    Joining the TV discussion group is definitely a good way to combine something you enjoy with making contacts who might check out your website and books. ;-) Sounds like you're doing well in the networking side of PR.
    -- Marcia ;-)